Homeless.

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Gayle Hardman was a homeless person when she died. She didn’t die in her car, which I was happy to hear, but she did die in a hotel without no one around who knew her, or cared. I’m glad she died, at least, warm and safe, because those were two things Gayle didn’t have a lot of towards the end. Gayle made cheap jewelry, but it was nice stuff, neatly made and beautiful. I’m angry there isn’t some sort of help for people like Gayle. I’m still mad about it, and Gayle has been dead for a couple of years now. I miss her.

 

Greg was someone I knew in the mid 80’s, and I still remember the day he told me he wanted to deal cocaine for a living. We were both working at Shoney’s as dishwashers, and it’s hard to explain to someone that dealing cocaine isn’t something you just start doing as a means of employment. Greg started a very, very slow descent into chronic unemployment. He would buy cocaine, sell some of it, but use the rest of it. The amount sold versus the amount used began to swing hard in the direction of use, and eventually, his roommates began to get tired of him. The drugs were one thing, everyone was young back then, drugs were common and accepted, but the lack of rent money wasn’t. Greg started stealing food from his two roommates and they put up with it for a while, but then they started missing other things as well. They began to torment him, the way young men will torment one another, and one day they hid the toilet paper from him and Greg had to go to a Hardee’s to wipe. I think that was a turning point of sorts. Greg had reached a zone of poverty, self inflicted poverty, that excluded the very basics of living. He had pushed people to the point they no longer cared about him.

 

When they kicked him out, Greg rode around with everything he owned in his car for a while. His bed sat in their front yard, near the street, and I think he actually slept in it until it rained one night and ruined it. Greg lived with his girlfriend, Susan, until she broke up with him, and then he lived in her mother’s garage until he held a yard sale one day, and sold a lot of her stuff while she was at work. Greg was homeless. Worse, he was unemployed, and Greg began a life of truly petty thievery.

 

I let him crash on my couch a few times, let him take a shower at my place, but things started disappearing. Greg once stole some sticky notes from me. I had a pad of sticky notes on my coffee table and he stuck them in his pocket before he left. Sticky notes. What was he going to do, pawn them? Yeah, I got these primo sticky notes here, can you give me a dime for them? But Greg was like that. If he could steal it he would steal it. It finally got to the point I wouldn’t let him in my apartment and he finally stopped coming around.

 

He showed up at Exit 16 a few times, I saw Susan at the YMCA and she and her husband tried to help him, and honestly, Susan was a saint and so was her husband. I remembered him from the 80’s too, and he hated me, and he hated Greg a thousand times worse. Yet he was willing to try, but Greg had disappeared again, likely arrested, and it was a while before I saw him again.

 

Greg was going to college when I first met him. He was dating Susan, who was a very decent human being, and very pretty, too. In the space of just a couple of years, he was living out of his car, and then, suddenly, he was on foot, wandering and stealing, and homeless. He did stupid things, got arrested often, and one cop broke his jaw. Greg mumbled after that, because he never got his jaw set right, and the last time I saw him he was selling gasoline at a gas station. Greg was upfront with me about how he conned people out of money. He would go to a gas station with a two gallon can and ask people for fifty cents worth of gas, a dollar’s worth, just to get his car going, his family was stranded, he told that worked really well, and then when he got a full can he would try to sell the gas for a dollar. He got the hell beat out of him, he told me, because he sold someone two gallons of a mixture of gas and water. He learned not to go back to the same places too often after that. Greg told me he passed out under an overpass one night and was attacked by fireants. He stripped off his clothes to get the ants off of him, and stood there naked by the interstate, picking ants off his skin. Did he see that coming? Did he realize at some point in time this sort of thing would happen? Did he not realize that there would be terrible things, awful things, inhuman things and worse, that would happen to him?

 

“Skeet me some gas in that can, boy,” the man says to me, as he puts a two gallon jug down beside me, and then he turns and yells at the people across the bay from me, and I can tell by the way they’re looking at him, and looking at me, that they have no idea who this guy is. It’s not Greg, but a younger version of him. He’s trying to simply barge his way into people giving him gas, and I can tell by the smell he’s been on the road for too long. Honest hardworking sweat isn’t offensive but someone who simply hasn’t bathed and has been walking the roads smells like it. It’s a chemical smell, devoid of humanity in a way, as if he’s replaced his blood with cheap beer and junk food. He’s pretending to talk to the other people, who are not responding, and they’ve given him enough gas to fill half the jug, so he’s doing well. I have no idea what his angle on this might be, and I simply do not care.

I start to put the hose up and he steps in like he’s going to take it away from me. “Hey, Boy,” he begins but I’m not interested. I squeeze the handle and gas gushes out, and all over him. “Get the fuck away from me.” I tell him, and I’m serious. He starts cussing like hell, but backs away from me, and he realizes that he’s a spark away from being a human Roman Candle. I’m mad as hell. I’m mad as hell that Gayle tried as hard as she did and died alone and afraid. I’m mad that Greg threw away his life on cocaine and petty theft. I’m mad as hell that this guy is running some sort of scam, and expects people to allow him to feed off on them. People like this are the reason people like me won’t help the homeless more than we do, and I am mad at myself for stereotyping homeless people because of people like him.

 

I pull away and he’s yelling and cussing but at least he doesn’t smell like the road anymore. It looks like it might rain, and he can stand out in it and get the gasoline off of him. I have this thought as I look at him in the rearview mirror. I smell like gas now, too, but I can let the windows down and it will pass. I will go home and shower. I have an insect bite on my leg that is oozing right now and I can feel it itching, but I have something for that, too.

 

I wonder who that guy is, and how he got where he is, and why, at the end of the day, I only made things worse for him.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Porn

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Being in a committed relationship with my home, my money, and my sanity, I decided long ago never to marry again. In the passing years, friends of mine, various and sundry married men, have arrived at my doorstep each with a sadder story than the next, and each one discovering that there are issues I have no interest in involving myself in, ever. The first is violence. Sorry, Charlie, don’t darken my door. Alcohol, is next, and also, nope, I drink, but it doesn’t affect my life and if you have a problem with alcohol then you won’t affect my life either. And lastly, infidelity. You’re married. Act like it or leave her.

 

I try to weed out those people who think moving into a house in the woods with a bunch of dogs and a Hermit is a good idea. If you’re on the run from something, chances are it’s yourself.

 

So a friend of mine arrives with a suitcase and a strange story; his wife has relieved him of his bedroom rights because he has a porn problem. Firstly, I cannot understand porn. I don’t indulge in it past Naughty Bits and looking up an occasional actress to see if she’s ever appeared nude. But either I have access to a woman willing to have sex with me or I do not. If I do, why porn? If I do not, truly, why porn? Do I need to be reminded I am without?

 

Sex issues are now on the list of things that will cause me to not let you sleep on my sofa.

 

The obvious question: You have a wife. Why do you need porn?

 

He explains to me that he has always watched porn and never thought he’s have to give it up when he got married. After all, she never knew about it before, why would she know about it now?

Any of you women want to field that one for me? I’m not sure I can get the anger level that high.

 

Worse than worst, he got caught sneaking around to have sex with himself. She fired up her cell phone app that lets her see what’s going on inside their house, and other than the cat sleeping on the kitchen counter, everything looks good. But then her husband arrives, opens his laptop and connects with the widescreen, and even though she can’t see what he’s watching, it is clearly something that excites him. She captures the video and then ambushes him with it later.

First, she goes asks him how many hours he put in for the week and he tells her that he’s missed a couple of hours here and there because of rain. Rain? Yeah, it rained yesterday on the project. Rained on the project so you lost some time, did you? And her tone of voice lets him know she’s got something on him, but he digs the hole deeper. Yes, lost time due to rain, you can call my boss. At that point, she is to understand he’s got help in getting off to get off, or at best, his boss will lie for him and he knows it. She files this piece of information back for a few moments.

 

She shows him the video and there isn’t much you can say, and honestly, he might have been able to salvage the situation, but he told her he was watching a video they had made together. Oh? And your laptop will reflect that you didn’t connect to pornhub at that time on that day?

 

Busted. Red handed, in a manner of speaking.

 

So now he’s in truly hot water and he ought to bail out and beg forgiveness but he tries to vamp his way through it. He’s been pretty good about clearing the history of his browser on his laptop and he shows it to her, thinking he’s slick enough to salvage the situation. Okay, I did that once, or twice, but it’s not like I do it all the time.

 

But this is a tech savvy woman who knows a few things about hiding things and finding things. The first thing she gets out of him is his password, and then she changes it while he’s trying to explain everything to her. Then she starts looking around at who he’s emailed, and sure enough, there’s an exchange between him and his supervisor.

 

At that point, things got really out of hand, no pun intended.

 

Seems that in their five year marriage, because he really likes porn, they’ve made some “wife-porn”. She was agreeable to it, why not, and she knows there’s more than a few videos of the two of them in various sex scenes together. But he’s traded videos with his supervisor. And co-workers. And friends.  He’s been watching wife porn of other men’s wives, and other men have been watching his wife porn.

 

The jerk.

 

Hence his arrival at Hickory Head, and his debut to homelessness less than an hour later. If your wife cannot trust you I will not.

 

Okay, I’m in the clear with this one. He’s been handed off, no pun intended, to someone who will let him crash for a few nights, and I can distance myself from this entirely simply by not answering my phone again.

 

Then she calls me. My curiosity gets the better of me and I answer. She’s madder than any woman I’ve ever pissed off, which is a remarkable feat, I must add that, and she’s ready to start legal action. Worse, infinitely worse, she wants to make sure that he understands how mad she truly is. “Tell him,” she says in a tone of voice that can only be described as venomous, “that I still have the video with the two headed monster in it.” And then she hangs up.

Unfortunately for me, I have a very morbid curiosity. I call him up and as he answers it pops into my mind to say, “Your wife just sent me the ‘two headed monster’ video” and on the other end of the line is total silence for about five seconds. Then he says, “Please, call her back, tell her I’ll give her the house, she can keep it, okay?”

A minute later I call her up and tell her what I’ve done and she screams with laughter.

“Call him back,” she purrs at me, “and tell him if he doesn’t sign the paperwork handing the house over to me tomorrow I’m sending the video to his mama.”

“Are you really going to do it?” I ask.

“Maybe.”

 

A couple of days pass and I hear nothing from the two of them. Then I get a text message from her with her holding a house key in one hand and a jump drive in the other. She’s grinning. In the reflection of her sunglasses I can make out someone taking the photo, but not who.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Dear Woman

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Dear Woman,

It was odd seeing you naked, and I shouldn’t have looked, but I did, and perhaps it’s an inner failing of mine I never regretted looking, yet now it’s too late to ask you if you wanted me to, and if that’s why it happened. You left the door partially open, just enough for me to see, but not enough for me to think it was intentional, except for these years later. I remember watching you getting ready to get dressed, for longer than I should have, your back to me, your face hidden as you searched a drawer for something or you pretended to, and the mirror reflecting your breasts. After three kids your body was still young, still taut, still firm and only a slight spread at the hips hinted at motherhood. I wish I had not look, not seen, and not begun the desire.

It was easy to stay away from you. Yet there were times I would come by, always when your kids or husband was home, and later you told me you realized what I was doing, and how I was doing it, and it was so subtle that you often wondered if this was your fantasy alone, if you were imagining this for your own entertainment. I wish I had never been as close to your husband as I was, and I wish that he had been a better father to your kids, and a better partner for your life, and I wish that he had not started down the road of addiction and abuse. I wish that I could have stayed at the periphery of your life, and the lives of your kids, forever.

We both knew what we were doing when we met for lunch after you left him. We were both far too nervous for it to have been anything but a meeting to explore the possibility of an affair, and it would be an affair even after the divorce because we both knew we should have never started something that couldn’t have ended well. We both knew that. We both could have agreed on it before we ordered, before we got our iced tea and napkins, before we both made small talk about the waitress being nice and the aquarium being fascinating, and the candle on the table, we could have simply said, “This will end poorly,” and left.

You had been over at my house dozens of times, but never alone, and we finally dragged it out into the light, opened the door, and I remember the look on your face. You looked terrified, the divorce wasn’t final, my house was too close to someone you knew, there was no way to park your car in my driveway, and then we got down to business of how we would begin and where. Let’s meet out of town, leave my car in the parking lot of a store, you pick me up… You had already thought about it. You had a plan. I was more than a little aroused at the idea you were thinking about it, too.

I saw you in the store before you saw me. Years ago, I had watched you dress, or pretend to, and now you were pretending to shop. I had the key to the room in my pocket, I had already gone in, set flowers for you, made sure the room was clean, and now, I approached you, startled you, and for a minute, maybe more, we hesitated, talked about something you had just found, then I remember saying, “Are you ready to go?” and my voice sounded odd, even to me, and you smiled, and say, “Okay”.

There’s a difference, very subtle difference, between “okay” and “yes”. Okay means you are willing to go along with something, you’ll acquiesce to it, agree, but there’s some hesitancy, some sort of near reluctance, and more than a little fear. We got out of the truck, and walked quickly to the door, it opened without drama, and suddenly, we were alone, together, in private, for the first time in our lives.

You brought tequila. You hated the stuff, couldn’t stand the smell of it, but you liked doing shots of it. You pulled it out of your purse, and two shot glasses, and your hands shook as you poured. We stood close together, my hand on your hip, and you made a toast, “Salute!” and we both downed our shots. You put the shot glass down, deliberately, without hesitation and asked me, “What are we doing?” and that question covered so much territory, so many things, so many thoughts. We kissed. You let my hands wander your body, and I could feel the fire beginning in us both. You let me push you down on the bed, and you wiggled away and said, “I have to pee” and got up. Longer than it should have taken you came out, wearing nothing but a towel, and you got into bed, and told me to cut the lights off, to make sure the door was locked, and I did.

Gone were all questions or reluctance. Gone were the moral or ethical issues. Gone were our clothes and our thoughts of stopping this, or slowing down, or trying to figure out what it was. There was a mad fire, an insanity fueled by so many emotions we couldn’t have discerned which one drove us harder. Then, the aftermath, the breathing hard, the sweat, the mutual heart pounding receding and you said, “Well, we’re sexually compatible” and I agreed.

The clock drove us to “one more time” at the end, and afterwards, you told me, “This is the first time I’ve had sex in three years, almost.” And I could tell you instantly regretted saying it, because there were so many questions to ask as to why. And we rode in silence and finally I asked, “When are we going to see one another again?” and we made plans.

The basic were there, but there was so much you had never tried, never been asked to try, and I was surprised at how much I took for granted that you had only heard of before. “He’s pretty much one position, on the bed, and two minutes later,” you told me, and I knew you hated yourself as soon as you said it. There were a lot of things we both said that we regretted, yet at the same time, you had to explain why you were doing this, you had to let me know you hadn’t done this before, and would have never done it with anyone else, and at the end of the day, wished things had been different a long time ago.

“Before we moved here,” you told me one night, when we finally had some time together, more than a few stolen hours, “we were really broke, and neither of us had a job. I was pregnant, barely, with the youngest, and managed to get a job waiting tables. He would come to the restaurant and sit, and drink tea, and just watch me. Four, five, six hours or more, he would find someone to stay with the other kids, or he would drop them off at a friend’s house, and come watch me work. I asked him why and he told me he didn’t feel right with me being there alone, with all those people, and even though we were broke I had to quit because the manager didn’t want him there taking up a table. He couldn’t keep a job, wouldn’t work at anything very long, but didn’t want me to make a living. I hated that in him. I hated that he could get a job and stay with it long enough for us to pay off the credit cards and finally put the kids into some nice clothes and then he would get busted on a piss test or start laying out drunk.” All of this came out of you in a rush, as if you had been holding it in for years, and suddenly, at that moment, I knew you were thinking about what it would be like to be with me, longer than a few stolen hours, longer than it took to get this out of our systems, and I wondered, too.

If I had to name one thing that separated us more than anything else it was my atheism. You never could come to terms with it, and you confessed you had asked him to keep me away from the kids when you first found out. When you first got married, because the first kid was on the way, you went to Sunday school every Sunday, and even after the first child was in school there was the Sunday morning ritual of going to church. He started sleeping in, and then the oldest started wanting to sleep in, and finally you gave up on having a family of church goers, and it wasn’t my fault, and you knew it.

“I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage,” you told me one night. “I think this is wrong, sometimes, but I can’t stop.” And you surrendered to me right after you said that, you allowed me to set you ablaze in desire, and it didn’t matter what I asked you to do because we both knew you were going to do it. I think this was your way of confessing to me that you were flawed in what you believed, yet were still capable of that belief, and you wanted me to join you, and by joining me it was an invitation. And you never turned down an invitation from me, ever.

“Please don’t make me talk like that,” you would plead with me, “don’t make me say those things.” But when I did extract from you words you had never used before, in ways that you would have never done so freely before, it always pushed you to a level of heat like nothing else we did. Your innocence was refreshing, and I’m sorry that I watched it die.

Two or three times, I remember having the thought, I was going to ask you if you meant for me to see you naked, to watch you, and each time something else happened, and the thought was pushed away.

Affairs never grow up to be relationships. The strain of trying to keep the fire from burning through so others could see it damaged us both but mostly it damaged us. Even after the divorce was final it still felt like an affair and eventually there was a month we didn’t see one another, and then there was another, and then there was a time we were mad at one another about nothing at all and we stopped speaking for a while.

Finally, one day, you showed up again at my house, and this time I was far away, and you told me that you were getting married again. You wanted to see how it felt to be in the same room with me again, just to make sure the fire was really out, and I had started seeing someone else, too. It felt wrong this time, and it was wrong, this time, and I felt bad for talking you into it. You couldn’t stay, wouldn’t, and when you left I knew I would never see you again.

Your youngest finally graduated from college, and she looks a lot like you. You called to tell me I was invited, if I wanted to come, and that was it, that was the last time I heard your voice. Someone from High School looked me up, found me in my hiding under writing name, and we talked for a while before he asked me if I remembered you, and yes, I do, I do remember her, and he said, “She’s dead, she died in a car wreck in ’16, or ’15, I think it was ’16, and did you know that the Coach’s daughter is a lesbian now?” And then the obligatory homophobic rant.

Really. I didn’t know that. Hey, thanks for calling, but you know, I buried my past under another name, and I wish you wouldn’t call me back, okay? Thanks. Bye.

I hope you died quickly, and painlessly, and I hope that you were right about your religion and your god. I wished I had told you I loved you, because in some odd way, I always did.

end

Rage in the Rain, on the Road, and Windshield Wipers

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It’s a strange life to lead when getting off work just after midnight is getting off early. The rain started right after work did and a light rain doesn’t kill things off, but a light rain that doesn’t stop, and gets harder, does. The bottom fell out of the sky right after it was called off, as if to punctuate the demise of the day. By the time I pointed the truck westward the rain was down to a heavy drizzle but the damage had been done.

 

Mile Marker 8 exists just west of I-75, and I try to ramp my speed up to fifty-five by the time I get to it. True enough, the speed limit is forty-five, but it is late, and there’s very little traffic. Up ahead of me, there’s a white serial killer van in the inside lane, directly ahead of me, and to his right is a car. The serial killer van and the car aren’t side by side but they’re damn close, and I see now I’m going to have to slow down until one of them decides to turn, slow down, go faster, or stop to kidnap some schoolchildren while offering free candy.

 

As far as I know, the white serial killer van is an urban myth with no real serial killers actually using the vehicle and if one or two did, remember that Bundy used a VW Bug to kidnap women. I had a friend with one, many years ago, and I never really saw them as creepy until the internet started calling them out. I wonder what else the internet has done for us, other than that?

 

Suddenly, as I’m getting closer, the white serial killer van speeds up, and passes the car, a little too closely, and the car responds by changing lanes, and moving in front of me. It’s like they traded places, but the car was forced to slow down, so when it changed lanes, it cut me off, and I had to slow down. The white serial killer van makes a right turn, seeking some lost soul to prey upon, and is gone.

 

Somehow, what just happened was my fault in some way. The car, which is in front of me, slows down dramatically, and I change lanes. The car speeds up and changes lanes, and the driver flicks a cigarette out of the window straight up into the air.

 

Really? This is supposed to, in some way, enrage me?

 

So another car appears behind us, and as it passes me, I fall in behind it, and the Enraged Car speeds up, as to not let me escape his wrath. As he gets beside me, I speed up to about sixty, then drop down to fifty very quickly, and he has to brake to keep from overshooting me to the point his point hasn’t been made yet. He slows down and I speed up. A big rig truck shows up behind me and I speed up, knowing the car of rage cannot fall in behind me because of the truck.

 

Really? Is any of this truly necessary?

 

We get to Mile Marker 4. Yes, all of this has occurred in the last four miles. If you really want to know how weird things can get, there were four people burned to death in an accident about ten years ago. They were pulling out of Exit 18 and by the time they had nearly reached Exit 16 two miles away, four people were dead. They cut someone off and that person eventually rammed them. At three in the morning. There were a half dozen cars within a mile of that event, maybe.

 

 

But now he’s lost track of me and I drop down in speed and get over into the slow lane again. A few minutes later he passes me, slows down, so I do too, but there’s more traffic on the road behind him and he’s losing interest. He speeds up and I watch him slowly gain ground. Soon, another car passes me, and another, so by the time we get to the County Line, he’s too far ahead of me for me to tell who is who up there.

 

The rain begins again, harder, and I have to turn on the wipers. There’s a certain ethereal quality when it comes to windshield wipers. They appear from nowhere, disappear instantly, and the water on the windshield is gone, but then it returns, and the wipers come back, and so it goes, for miles and miles and miles. No one can really say how many times they’ve watched this, and to a point it’s just background scenery, like the lines on the road, or the rain itself. We don’t really see wipers, until they go to hell on us, leave streaks, squeak, or break. And most streaks occur right in front of the driver’s field of vision.

 

The mile markers reverse at the line. I went from eight to zero, and now go from seventeen to twelve. At twelve I’ll be in Quitman, and eleven is on the west side, and I’ll head South. In Quitman, there’s a line of traffic caused by the train catching people, I just missed it, and lo! The car of extreme anger is trapped at a traffic light two cars ahead of me as I pull up.

I wonder if he sees me back there and there’s some trigger that’s pulled and he wants to play tag in traffic some more? I mean was it really that big of a deal? Does it mean so much to people that this person did that or someone in some car did something that caused that much anger?

 

I make a left turn as the car of rage heads due west. Somewhere, his version of the story is different, but I made an effort to disengage. I don’t do road rage in any form. I keep the hell away from human beings when I can, and I can. One day, he’s going to pull up beside someone can catch a bullet for his troubles, but those are not my troubles. The rain ceases and I turn off the wipers.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

Lost in the Swamp

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How long had I been lost? The swamp of the Okefenokee was endless but human life is not. I went in to photo the variety of life in the Cypress Cathedral and snuck my kayak down to the landing to keep from paying the landing fee. This was acerbated by my departure from the known trail, my forgetfulness towards my compass, and finally, I had lied to my girlfriend and told her I had to work. I had told work I was spending the weekend with Anne. A rotted tree fell silently and clipped the bow off my boat and shattered my knee. After three days it was clear no one had thought to look here for me. The watercraft was wrecked, my cell phone was tucked away somewhere in the ruin, and I could barely move my leg without a scream rising from my throat.
“You are dying,” the creature said, and I knew he was right.

“Hey you wanna go get a grits bowl,” said a co-worker.
“No,” I replied, “I’m good.”
I parked nearly a quarter mile away from everyone else. I have less than half an hour for a break and an idea for a new short story has wandered in. But this proves my theory that nothing attracts humans stronger than another human trying to catch some solitude.
“You don’t want no grits bowl?” And he asks this in a tone of voice that suggests I’ve refused to admit desire for Helen Mirren in her prime, and she always has been so.
“I don’t like grits,” I say and instantly regret it. The conversation will now continue to the incredible heights of deliciousness of a food with no taste of its own. The proponent will be forced into confessing that grits needs, at a
Minimum, salt, pepper, a lot of butter, and a full breakfast mixed in with it to make it palatable. In the meanwhile, my break is dissolving like a ice cream scoop of butter on a tasteless gloop of ground corn with the nutritional value of seasoned cardboard.
Oddly, the Grits Cheerleader then begins a soliloquy on why he never eats breakfast at McDonald’s.
Splendid! Why not pick a subject at random with some superficial effect on your life, set it ablaze with an anecdote, and shall we warm our souls on the dying moments it consumes?

 

The story looks up at me like an ailing pet. I’ve kept this thing alive with merely one hand, one finger, tapping away at the phone keyboard, in Notes, because that is how strong the desire is to write, yet the moments that remain to me before I go to work wither and die, like the last moments of a dog’s life before the sharpness of the needle slips in and away goes a mortal soul, and nothing remains but to remember and to mourn.

 

 

“You think Carrie Underwood’s face is going to be messed up, you know, really bad?” he asks solemnly, and somewhere out there, in the infinite Universe, filled with infinite Universes, through billions and billions of years of time. Carrie Underwood’s face, whoever Carrie Underwood might actually be, might have some impact on my life.

“You think she got beat up and is just trying to cover for him?” He asks, and he looks around, as if there might be someone who might turn him in for this thought, or might care. I get out of my truck and start walking towards his, which is some distance away.

“Mostly,” I tell him, “women will defend their abusers if there’s a pattern of abuse in the past, and who knows, he may be beating the hell out of her in a drunken rage right now for all we know, but in the end, she has the resources to break the pattern of abuse but she must choose to do so.” And with this I tell him I forgot my phone and double back to get it has he heads out.

 

I sit down and watch his figure recede into the night, and look at the clock. It’s over. Thirty minutes have been devoured and now I am frustrated and hungry. There is no way to recover the time lost and the story must wait until the light of day. I wonder if the time between start and restart will hurt the essence of the tale, and I wonder if there’s some way to regain a few moments to try to put it back together sooner?

 

The truck pulls ever so slightly to the left, and I know this truck well, its quirks and its patterns of drift. I can use details like these in another story of a man in a truck, nothing is wasted when it comes to writing, like the bones of the lion’s prey being bleached out on the plains of the Serengeti. Perhaps it will be covered in some flash flood, to be found millions of years later, and in some way, live again. The story needs someone, Anne, the girlfriend, and suddenly I realize that nothing is wasted in writing, and that all stories need something in them that is buried, like the bone of a kill millions of years old, and I have an idea on top of an idea.

 

The work has begun again, and as I pull up my co-worker has information for me, factual and empirical, and he’s surprised when I get out of the truck with a bag. “Grits bowl, extra butter and hot sausage,” I tell him. “So, you think microsurgery will be enough to save Carrie Underwood’s face or will she be messed up, you know, real bad?”

 

I had forgotten the basic needs of a writer, and that is to be human, to experience humanity, and to live the lives of people who are not fictional. This is nothing new, and I’ve forgotten this lesson before, and I will always forget it again, for that is my nature, to be alone and to write. But I must return my people to learn again, this lesson, and others as well, for without that humanity, without the breath of other people, writing is simply the echo of one man’s thoughts, and that is never a good thing.

 

“You don’t know who Carrie Underwood is,” he is stunned, but eating grits, “she’s got like a billion number one hits, she’s married to that guy, what’s his name, that was married to that girl…”

 

Take Care,

Mike